Keepers' Diaries, February 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

As the month began, Mukkoka decided it was time to stop and smell the roses. He strolled out of this stockade slowly, with his trunk in his mouth, much as human babies suck their thumbs. Naleku and Suguroi had no time for his dawdling and breezed past him, but even this didn’t induce Mukkoka to increase his pace. Instead of tucking into the lucerne with the other orphans, he first indulged in a nice, long scratch on a rock. He was determined to enjoy his morning at a leisurely pace.

While the Keepers were eating their lunch beside the midday mud bath, our newbies Roho, Suguroi, Sagateisa, and Naleku convened a meeting nearby. Their machinations soon became clear: When the wild bulls started to wander off, the four young orphans decided to follow them. They were clearly intrigued to find out what happens in the wild! As soon as the Keepers tracked them down, they contritely returned to the herd. We didn’t know it yet, but this would become a theme throughout the month.

Not long afterwards, Kauro, Rapa, Sattao, and Naleku split from the main herd one afternoon. It was only as the Keepers were preparing to lead everyone home for the night that they noticed Naleku was missing. They soon found the wayward girl in the company of her big friends. Rapa and Kauro pulled rank and refused to go home with the Keepers, instead sauntering back to the stockades at their own time, about an hour later.

We were treated to lots of ex-orphan visitors this month, including Sities, Suguta, Kalama, Chemi Chemi, Namalok, Turkwel, Kilaguni, Lemoyian, and Sidai and her babies, who we hadn’t seen for some time. It is lovely to see Sita, Sidai’s eldest, back with his mother again. When Sidai gave birth to Silas in 2021, Sita was annoyed that he wasn’t allowed access to milk anymore. In response, he decided to be independent of his mother, often spending time with other ex-orphans and their splinter groups. During the drought, he started to lose a bit of weight, as Sidai had another calf when Sita should still technically be nursing. Thanks to the recent rains, however, Sita is looking much better, and now he has a happy reunion with his mother to celebrate, too. Sita is a little survivor; he made it through these harsh times without a single drop of milk!

The return to dry conditions has brought all manner of creatures circling in. A buffalo arrived at the stockade compound before dawn one morning and found the water trough empty. He boldly lay down to sleep right then and there, knowing that it would be filled first thing in the morning. 

Mundusi, Sapalan, Enkikwe, Mteto, Esampu, and Maramoja recently teamed up with the ex-orphans and have been spending their nights out in the wild. We feel sure that Mundusi is on a mission to recruit Rapa, Pare, Kauro, and Kamok to join them. He’s had limited success. While we understand his eagerness to have all his friends by his side, he needs to remember that reintegration is a personal journey and every orphan transitions from our care in their own time.

Kithaka spent the latter half of last year recovering at Ithumba, after sustaining a serious leg injury. In December, he finally felt healed enough to return to the wild. On 7th February, we were treated to a sighting of our friend. He appeared close to the stockade compound but stood a distance away from the wild elephants and ex-orphans who were congregated there, no doubt to reduce the risk of getting hurt in any pushy shenanigans. Kithaka is still limping slightly, but the swelling in his leg has massively reduced, which is a great sign.

One morning, poor wild-born baby Kaia was waiting outside the stockade compound, crying for her mother, Kinna. Kinna, who was in season at the time, had fled the scene the previous evening with some amorous bulls in hot pursuit. For most of the night, Kaia seemed oblivious to her mother’s absence, as she was being looked after by Tumaren, Sities, Kalama, Suguta, Kainuk, and Kanjoro. Come morning, however, Kaia just wanted her mother. Kalama, Suguta, and Sities took action by escorting the baby out to the bush, where she was reunited with Kinna.

Sagateisa is carving out a new identity for herself at Ithumba — and that identity is a water baby! She is the first into the mud bath and the last out, even when it is very cool. When the other orphans only deign to tiptoe through the shallow end, Sagateisa dives right into the water without reservation.

Wild-born baby Wiva is shaping up to be just like her mother, the infamous Wendi. One morning, she mischievously stood at the exit point and tried to block the orphans from exiting their stockades. The Keepers told Wiva to stop such uncouth behaviour, which gave everyone echoes of Wendi!

Our newbies can be a bit too confident for their own good. One morning, Naleku brazenly joined two wild bulls at the water trough, while the incredibly autonomous Sagateisa quietly sneaked off with a trio of wild bulls when she realised that no one was watching her. The Keepers looked off and saw her disappearing into the bush, sandwiched between three huge bodies! Assisted by the other orphans, they managed to quickly locate the young girl, much to everyone’s relief.

On Valentine’s Day, we enjoyed a real treat: ex-orphan Mutara and her baby, Mambo, showed up after a prolonged absence! We had been expecting her return, as her herd (Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, and Kainuk) have been around for a few days without their matriarch. In fact, we couldn’t help but worry a bit, as this is an unusually tight-knit group. They are the only ex-orphan herd who has remained intact ever since they left their human family and joined the wild. It was a happy reunion when Mutara and Mambo finally appeared.

The next day, the newbies were at it again. Mid-afternoon, Suguroi and Naleku decided to sneak off and find their new friends Noah, Yogi and Kaia. Neshashi and Roho saw them leaving and decided to follow them. The four orphans walked all the way to the stockade compound, where they met with their wild-born friends. After fun and games at the stockades, Naleku, Suguroi, Neshashi, and Roho boldly followed the ex-orphans to the Kalovoto area. The Keepers wondered how they were going to wrangle the youngsters home for bed, but they needn’t have worried — the ex-orphans did it for them! At half past five, Nasalot, Noah, and Nusu arrived with Naleku and Suguroi, and the rest of the ex-orphans deposited Roho and Neshashi a half hour later. 

This month, Sattao decided it was time to teach Naboishu a lesson. One afternoon, Naboishu persistently pressured him to play a pushing game, even though Sattao clearly just wanted to relax. It was time for drastic measures. Sattao pushed Naboishu hard, and when the younger bull turned to run, Sattao grabbed him by the tail with the intention of biting him. Poor Naboishu managed to pull himself away just in time and ran off to join his friend Roho instead.

The park is drying up, as evidenced by the influx of wild visitors. One evening, about 150 ex-orphans and wild elephants came through the stockades for water. Among them, we were very happy to see a wild family led by a one-tusked female who had last visited about five years ago. This is indeed an indication of how elephants never forget. Ithumba received a good amount of rain late last year in comparison to other parts of Tsavo, so we are seeing a number of wild elephant visitors.

Towards end of month, Rapa and Kauro decided to spend the night out in the wild. Satisfied with their experience, they re-joined their friends first thing in the morning. Little Malkia, meanwhile, eagerly joined Mutara’s ex-orphan group, tempted by the opportunity to babysit her beloved baby Mambo.

The month ended with another stunning, hilarious display of Naleku’s cunning intellect. In the morning, she really wanted to get the day started, but all her friends were dawdling. The young girl stood still and thought deeply of a plan, which she then put into action. She walked a few metres away then started trumpeting and increasing her pace. In another few metres, she accelerated to a run, while keeping up her chorus of trumpets. Suguroi responded by running towards Naleku, also trumpeting, which drew the attention of the entire herd. Led by Malima, the orphans followed the two girls, desperate to find out what was happening. They soon discovered that Naleku was just playing with their minds, but at this point, it was too late to turn back, so they proceeded into the bush. Mission accomplished!

February 2023 day to day

01 Feb

Funny Mukkoka left his stockade with his trunk in his mouth this morning. It is something we sometimes see the orphans do after their milk feed - suckling on the end of their trunk to savour every last flavour of milk in their mouth and to soothe themselves as well, almost like a comforting thumb to a human baby! As he was sauntering along in his own little world, Mukkoka was soon overtaken by Naleku and Suguroi who didn’t have time for his dawdling. They were in a hurry to get to the lucerne feeding area. Mukkoka evidently wasn’t in a hurry at all and even when he eventually arrived at the lucerne area he decided to pause and scratch his belly on a rock rather than tuck into the supplement food before him.

The orphans were soon joined by 14-year-old Tumaren, who had shown up recently with Chyulu’s little herd. She enjoyed feeding with the orphans until they deemed it time to start their day out in the bush. Sana Sana led the way out.

Neshashi teamed up to browse on some nice shrubs with Kauro while Mapia engaged Jotto in a strength testing exercise that ended in a draw. Shortly before mud bath time, the orphans encountered a buffalo. Sattao and Pare were the first ones to spot it. The two boys trumpeted and charged, alerting their friends that a buffalo was standing in their path ahead. Dololo, Ambo, Mapia and Naboishu prepared themselves to join their two friends in charging and driving the buffalo out of their way, but the buffalo appeared to read the mind of these rascals and ran off before the orphans could reach him, leaving the rowdy elephants only charging at empty bushes.

Led by Dololo, Suguroi, Sagateisa, Neshashi, Mukkoka, Naleku, and Roho all decided to go for a swim in the main mud bath after having their milk bottles. They also enjoyed a soil a dusting exercise afterwards to dry off. Later, Suguroi and Naleku led their friends over to the water troughs where they joined some wild bulls drinking fresh water. While the Keepers were standing under a tree having their lunch beside the milk feeding area, Roho, Suguroi, Sagateisa and Naleku convened a meeting. When the wild bulls started to wander off, the four young orphans decided to follow them. The Keepers tracked them down, and the quartet immediately knew that they had done something naughty! As soon as they saw the Keepers approaching, Roho, Suguroi, Naleku and Sagateisa didn’t need much encouragement before they started running back to join their friends. In the afternoon, Ambo enjoyed a fun wrestling match with Musiara while Mapia played with Jotto. 

Neshashi and Kauro

Jotto and Mapia sparring

Dololo mud bathing